You may have noticed that food prices are on the increase. A large majority of Canadians have anxiously noticed, according to reports including one from Dalhousie University a month ago. 

Food prices are up on climate and COVID

Reasons for sudden price jumps include widespread bad weather – mostly extreme weather events linked to climate change – plus logistical challenges from COVID. So we’ve got a long-term problem here.  

No human being should lack basic sustenance. This latest price news reminds me that we desperately need new food systems, and not just because of climate and pandemics. Before you reply that global food systems are probably entrenched, let me say that even complex networks can change. Our societies are capable of treating food like the necessity of life that it is, rather than putting pricetags on it like any other consumer good. We could de-commodify food – take it at least partly out of the money economy – and set up systems so that everyone can feed themselves healthfully and with dignity. That’s what governments did during World War II when they rationed scarce goods, like butter and sugar, so that everyone could have some. In the case of Britain, which developed a highly effective suite of wartime food programs, managing production, imports, and consumption allowed citizens to feed themselves at least adequately. Many millions of them ate better than pre-war. It’s a fascinating tale revealed in my upcoming book Mobilize Food! Wartime Inspiration for Environmental Victory Today.  

Visionaries Want a Public Food System

The idea of a public food system has been promoted by Canadian activists, including Paul Taylor and Debbie Field. In my city of Vancouver there are small-scale but exciting initiatives that recognize the large numbers of people needing help accessing basic nutrition. One program is a weekly Rescued Food Market at Olympic Village. Run by the visionary Food Stash, the market is on a pay-what-you-feel model and welcomes anyone regardless of income.  

Meat Needs Its Own Discussions

Let’s wind up with a word about meat. Consumers who have noticed recent food-price increases point especially to meat products. But the paradox is that most of us should be paying more – not less – for meat to take into account its hefty environment costs. Meat should be at the heart of food policy, with our nations cutting back on unsustainable meat production and requiring consumers to stop eating unhealthfully large amounts of animal products. Food policy could ensure that foods such as meat, dairy, and fish could be available in small, sustainable amounts to any citizens, whatever their financial position. That’s because a compassionate food system would not be based primarily on price but on need, sustainability, health, and all of us supporting a system that would be doing the right thing.   

 

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